Natural beekeeping: One member’s approach
by Bill Leitzinger
Editor’s Note: Bill Leitzinger has been keeping bees for seven years. He uses no miticides or harsh chemicals and still manages to maintain healthy colonies. In his own words, here’s what Bill has to say about a natural approach to beekeeping.
I usually only have three or four hives, so it's easier to take care of my bees. My methods are more labor-intensive than other methods, so they will work well and be easy to if you only have a few hives rather than dozens.
I've never used harmful chemicals in my hives, and have only lost three hives in six years of beekeeping. Two of those losses were my fault, not because of disease or mites.
My motto is to never use any chemicals that can harm the bees. Also, I believe that my job is to keep my bees happy, healthy and less stressed.
The only non-natural method I use in my hive is that in the fall, I feed my bees 2 parts sugar/1 part water mix of sugar syrup that also has Fumagillin added to prevent Nosema. Unlike most chemical treatments to combat varroa mites, this doesn't harm the bees, but acts as a good defense against a devastating disease.
The methods I use to lower mite levels include:
- Using the "Drone Frame Removal" method in my hives from April through Sept. Colonies receiving the drone trap treatment had twice the fall worker populations compared to those without the treatment. Special drone frames are available through bee supply houses. These frames have larger cell foundations where the queen will only lay unfertilized eggs (drone eggs). Mites prefer the larger drone cells and confine most of their activity there. By removing the drone frames every four weeks and freezing them overnight, you kill the mites (and, unfortunately, the drone brood). Reinsert the frame after freezing and the bees will clean out the dead larvae and mites and rebuild on the foundation. If you don‘t want to buy special drone frames, you can insert a medium frame in a deep hive body and the bees will build drone foundation from the bottom of the medium frame. You can then cut this off, getting rid of the drone cells and the mites!
- Giving my bees a "Powdered Sugar" bath six times per year. This knocks off a lot of mites each time. Use only on hives with screened bottom boards. To administer the powdered sugar bath: Coat hive bottom board insert with vaseline or vegetable oil to catch mites; Smoke hive, then open hive and dump 8-10 ounces of well-sifted powdered sugar onto top frames of upper hive body. Brush sugar off top of frames so that powdered sugar falls down into hive. Take out bottom board insert the next day and throw into trash, not near hive. Repeat two more times, 7-10 days apart That‘s it! (Editor’s note: Bee supply houses are just starting to stock special hand-crank blowers which blow powdered sugar up through the bottom board and into the hive. About $20.)
- Using screened bottom boards all year long. Mite levels are always lower on hives with screened bottom boards.
- Put in sugar patties (2 parts granulated sugar, 1 part Crisco) between the top and bottom hive bodies from April through October. This cuts down on tracheal mites.
- Making splits in early July where I separate all brood from the Natural beekeeping: One member’s approach queen. This drops mite levels dramatically in the broodless hive since there are no new bees emerging that are infested with mites. In the queenless hive, there is a period where the hive has few eggs, since they have to make their own queen. By the time the new queen starts laying, the mites are older and won't lay as much. This drops mite levels too.
- I reduce the stress level of my bees by taking care of my bees so that they are less stressed. Examples include:
1. Never going into the hive unless I have a specific purpose. I leave my bees alone to be bees.
2. Feeding my hives 1:1 sugar syrup from the third week in February until the nectar flow gets started (about mid to late April).
3. Reversing my hive bodies at the first dandelion bloom.
4. Adding a third hive body at the end of April between the two hive bodies. This cuts down on swarming tendencies.
5. Constantly moving brood from the top hive body in the spring and summer down to the bottom hive body. This gives more space for the queen to lay eggs, thereby reducing swarming tendencies.
6. I never move my hives. They stay in one place all the time which means less stress for the bees.
7. Feeding my bees 2 parts sugar/1 part water sugar syrup in the fall to help build up new bees for overwintering as well as build up honey supplies for winter.
8. I never take honey off the hive in the fall. I let the bees keep all fall honey. This gives them better nutrition for the winter since honey from nectar is better for the bees than sugar syrup from me.
Good luck and remember, healthy bees are happy bees!